R J BAILEY is the author of Safe From Harm, a thriller that features Personal Protection Officer Sam Wylde, bodyguard to the rich and famous. We asked the author questions about the origins of the character… and the writer.
How did you get into writing?
Well, as many people know by now, “R J Bailey” doesn’t exist. It is a pseudonym for two people, who happen to be married. One of us is an established author, the other a newcomer, so it seemed fitting to give this new venture a fresh identity.
Where did the author’s name come from?
Partially from our initials and partly from the fact that one of us was going to call our first dog Bailey. Then it turned out to be a girl and was re-named Bonnie. But “Bailey” stuck as a name to use somewhere down the line.
And Sam Wylde?
One of us didn’t want to name the hero at all. You don’t have to if it is first person (Len Deighton didn’t identify Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File and subsequent books – only when it came to the films was he named). But in the end we decided there had better be one (and the publishers agreed). Sam was chosen because it is gender ambiguous (like R.J. Bailey) and, following the example of Ian Fleming, Wylde was picked off from an author’s name on our bookshelf.
So how does it work, writing as a duo?
It doesn’t. Only one of us writes at a time, based on detailed character development and plot notes. Then the other revises. Then there is a re-write. And so it goes. With the first book, one of us created the hero’s character, background and job description, the other did the nuts and bolts of the plot. With book two (working title: Nobody Gets Hurt), it was much more collaborative, with both of us contributing to all aspects. It can be fraught, but so far the marriage is intact.
So where did the Safe From Harm plot come from?
It all started with an advert, on Gumtree, of all places, for a female Personal Protection Officer. We were puzzled and intrigued by it – we hadn’t heard of a PPO as the centre of a novel before.
“We are looking for an experienced Female CPO/PPO/Driver OR an experienced Driver with a knowledge of security for our clients in Westminster. (The candidate gender restriction is due to cultural reasons.) You will be driving the new Rolls Royce Ghost and MUST have previous experience driving luxury cars.
SIA accreditation essential.
You will be driving a young family with three children who are all schooled in London.
Your contracted hours are Monday-Friday 0730-1800 during school term times, with alternate weekends (flexibility essential).
2-3 months during the summer may be spent in Monte Carlo with possible short trips in the winter months to St Moritz.
To apply for this role you must have a London base and be flexible to adapt to the family and their needs.
Should you wish to go forward for this opportunity, please register your interest by Monday December 8th.”
Also the title came immediately – we both love the Massive Attack song of the same name.
What research did you do into the world of PPOs?
We spoke to a woman called Lisa Baldwin, who, despite only being in her early ‘30s, has more than a decade’s experience as a PPO. She is based in Dublin, so we flew over and bombarded her with questions – do you have to look like The Rock to be a PPO (she certainly doesn’t)? What skills do you need? Can you carry a gun? (Not in the UK). Are you firearms trained? (Yes, but abroad). What’s the worst part of the job? (The waiting around). She read the finished book and gave it the thumbs up.
And the rich people she bodyguards?
You can find a remarkable amount about people and their rotating art collections (that change automatically three times a day) and enormous garages stuffed with supercars they never drive from reading Tatler and the property pages of The Evening Standard. Also we live close to The Bishop’s Avenue and Witanhurst (the enormous Russian-owned mansion in Highgate, almost next door to George Michael’s London house), and a look at the requests for planning permission on such properties is a good guide to what people with billions spend their money on.
How did you pitch the book?
Well, one of us already had an agent, which helped. We gave him about 15,000 words and he asked us to make it a little grittier. Which is interesting, because some people are now taken aback by the language Sam uses. But she is ex-army, not an ex-nun. So then he sent out about 25,000 words, not letting on who we were. The first publisher liked it and sent it round the office, asking readers to guess whether it was a man or woman writing. About 80% went for a female author. Which we were pleased about, given it is written first person female. So, Simon & Schuster made an offer for two books, both of which are now complete.
Sam’s daughter plays a prominent role. Was that a deliberate choice from the beginning?
Absolutely. We told ourselves it would be like Modesty Blaise, but with childcare issues. And much of the domestic background is taken from the experience of having our own kids – like having to find a ridiculous amount of money for a school “field trip” to Indonesia. What’s wrong with the Lake District?
It is a very fast-moving, cinematic novel. Has there been any film interest?
A nibble from American TV, but to be honest all that is a distraction, as they either buy it or don’t. Usually don’t. So it isn’t worth stressing over. But obviously it would help the series if it had a life on the screen.
Are there more to come then?
You’ll have to ask the publisher! We hope so.
Safe From Harm is published by Simon & Schuster at £7.99.